On the first day of his new role as ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker posed some of the first questions to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday morning, as she testified on the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“Benghazi to all of us, I think, represents a lot of different things,” the senator said, during his opening remarks.
Corker described the fallout following the attacks as “the very worst of Washington.” He cited a “bizarre” briefing in September and regretted any politicization of the event that occurred at the height of last year’s election cycle.
The senator also described the aftermath of Benghazi as an “awakening” to how regime overthrows of the Arab Spring had contributed to instability in the Middle East and northern Africa, at one point suggesting it was indicative of how “woefully unprepared” the U.S. was to address shifting issues in the region. Corker repeatedly asked Clinton how the State Department would change its approach to its foreign policy to “reflect the dynamics of the region.”
“What has happened inside to make sure this never happens again?” Corker asked.
Clinton listed several actions taken in the months following the attack, saying her agency had “gone beyond” at times. Among the items mentioned by Clinton were requests for reallocation of funds for increased security and the creation of an assistant deputy secretary for high threats position.
“We’re putting into action steps that we think will help the next secretary make these decisions,” Clinton said.
Still, Corker suggested no recommendations put forward by an Accountability Review Board had been implemented by the State Department. The comment drew a rebuttal from Clinton, who said Corker’s claim was inaccurate.
“Senator, that’s not accurate,” she said. “I heard you say that when Bill Burns and Tom Nides were here, and it shocked me, so we went back and did a thorough investigation, and the vast majority have been implemented.”
Corker did not push back on Clinton’s remarks. The secretary had been referring to appearances before the committee made by her top deputies during a monthlong period in which she had been absent because of health issues.
Corker, who had said he expected no “bombshells” from Clinton’s appearance, had been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s response to the event, which claimed the lives of an American ambassador and three staffers. At one point, the senator described the administration’s response to the attack as “nothing short of Benghazi-gate” and openly questioned if United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice was qualified as a prospective secretary of state nominee after she suggested the event was a spontaneous protest and not a coordinated attack.
Corker also traveled to Libya on a fact-finding trip one month after the attack, meeting with officials in Tripoli.